The government has published new performance tables for every local authority in England on 15 key indicators relating to children in care (also known as looked after children, LAC) and adoption, which rank their performance against each indicator.
They were released alongside other initiativesto coincide with the start of National Adoption Week, following up a commitment the Prime Minister made in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference in October: “Today I can announce this: a new focus on the 65,000 children in care. Do you know how many children there are in care under the age of one? 3,660. And how many children under the age of one were adopted in our country last year? Sixty.
This may not seem like the biggest issue facing our country, but it is the biggest issue for these children. How can we have let this happen: we’ve got people flying all over the world to adopt babies, while the care system at home agonises about placing black children with white families.”
The tables are intended to “help generate debate, discussion and, above all, action”. They are based on three-year rolling averages, using data for 2008-09 to 2010-11 where available (otherwise 2007-08 to 2009-10), and will be updated later in the year when new data becomes available. They will then be published annually, and the DfE will be talking to LAs and partners about how they can be extended and developed.
The 15 indicators (all percentages) cover:
- Placements – three or more in one year; lasting at least two years; outside LA are and >20 miles from previous home; and LAC who went missing during the year
- Adoption – ceasing to be LAC who were adopted; who were subject of a special guardianship order; and LAC adopted who were placed within 12 months of decision
- Attainment – achieving at least level 4 at Key Stage 2 in English and maths; achieving 5+ A*-C GCSEs inc. English and maths; sessions missed due to absence for LAC; school-age LAC below floor targets at KS2 or KS4
- Leaving care – leaving care over 16 who remained LAC until at least 18; aged 19 who were LAC aged 16 and not in employment, education or training; aged 19 who were LAC aged 16 who were in suitable accommodation; and aged 19 who were LAC aged 16 who were in higher education.
The tables show widespread variation, both in the ranges of figures for each indicator and in the rankings of authorities under each. The press notice accompanying publication of the tables was headed, ‘Local authorities challenged to do better on adoption’, and the widespread media coverage focused strongly on adoption.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) issued a statement which pointed out that whilst adoption is the best solution for many children in the care system, it is not the only means of securing permanence and stability. Options such as Special Guardianship and residence orders are increasingly being used to secure stable homes for children and young people for whom adoption is not an option, and taking account of these alternatives the number of children finding a suitable stable placement is rising (by 27% over the last five years and 8.3% in the last year).
ADCS President Matt Dunkley agreed that the adoption process could, and should, be streamlined – describing this as a system wide challenge on which local authorities must work with partners in the judiciary, in CAFCASS and their own workforce to challenge unnecessary delay wherever it occurs.
However, he warned that “There is a moral imperative to place vulnerable children in stable families as quickly as possible, while ensuring that they are safe and able to thrive in that family. We agree that there are changes required to the adoption process to speed up the recruitment and matching of vulnerable children with potential adopters, as well as the decision that children should be put up for adoption, but not at the expense of depth and quality of decisions that risk adoption breakdown.”
Other government initiatives on adoption and children in care
In July, the government appointed Martin Narey, former Chief Executive of Barnardo’s, as Ministerial Advisor on adoption. His remit includes raising awareness of the importance of increasing the number of adoptions (where it is in the child’s best interests), and reducing delays; promoting the identification and awareness of good local practice; supporting individual LAs to improve adoption processes; and undertaking thematic studies (with encouragement to address early the reasons behind the exceptional delay in placing black children for adoption and the diminished chances of older children being placed for adoption).
The Adopters’ Charter sets out 11 principles/commitments for adopting agencies and three for adoptive parents, and it is intended that agencies and adoptive parents will (literally) sign up to these, agreeing to reflect the spirit and intentions of the Charter in their actions. The Charter emphasises that children come first, and the principles include, for agencies, ensuring that children are placed, with siblings wherever possible, within a timescale that is best for them and without unnecessary delay; treat prospective adopters and adopters with openness, fairness and respect; and approach adopter recruitment in the spirit of inclusiveness with a view to identifying potential and opportunity – no-one should be automatically excluded. For adoptive parents, they include being realistic about the needs of children awaiting adoption, and accepting that with support they may be able to consider adopting a child with a different profile to the child they originally envisaged adopting; and
making the most of opportunities to develop their parenting skills and seeking support when needed at the earliest stage.
A Green Paper on children in care and adoption will be published after the final report of the Family Justice (Norgrove) Review, which is due in early November. It will include a range of floor standards – covering broadly the same issues as the new performance tables – and Ministers have indicated their intention (if necessary) to intervene in authorities which persistently fail to meet them. They have also made clear that they expect the Norgrove Review to lead to significant improvements in the Family Justice system; the Review’s interim report made a number of recommendations aimed at simplifying, improving and speeding up the service, and the PM has said the Government will legislate if necessary.
This article was based on a LGiU/CSN members briefing by Martin Rogers. For information about LGiU membership, please contact Chris Naylor on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7554 2834.